Question h - Energy, Intelligence, Imagination, and Love

Site: Equip PC(USA) Training
Course: Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons based on the Constitutional Questions
Book: Question h - Energy, Intelligence, Imagination, and Love
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Date: Thursday, June 20, 2024, 8:25 AM


W.4.0404 h.—Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

Sustaining Our Vocational Calling

W.4.0404 h.—Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

One of the most inviting and empowering tenets of our tradition is the understanding that we are each—all of us—called to ministry. In responding to the call to ordained leadership, ruling elders and deacons have already done some important discernment. But the art of vocational discernment doesn’t end with ordination. This is just the beginning!

Theologian Frederick Buechner describes our vocation in this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1] The question of how we will meet the world’s hunger and the needs of our people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love is a way of asking, “what is our deep gladness?” What sustains us? What brings us joy in this good and hard work?

Questions of energy, intelligence, imagination, love, and even gladness are counterintuitive to many of us. Many leaders work and live in spaces that don’t leave a great deal of room for this type of reflection and discernment. These kinds of questions emphasize health, sustainability, curiosity, and joy rather than productivity, efficiency, and certainty. Most of us need practice asking and answering such questions.

The PC(USA) Book of Order reminds us, “As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people” (BOO, G-2.0301). Discerning the Spirit of God and leading God’s people accordingly requires energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. However, when faced with the everyday challenges of keeping an organization alive and well ...

  • our energy can be easily depleted when there are more tasks to do than hours with which to complete them;
  • we can begin to question our intelligence when our areas of expertise may not prepare us for leading an organization made up of diverse and, at times, competing needs;
  • our imaginations can be dampened by the realities of diminishing resources, human and financial;
  • and our love can be tested when our lives together are marked by anxiety and fear of an unknown future.

Photo of a silhouette of people prayingWill you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” Without intentional engagement and facilitation, this particular question can feel unattainable and unrealistic. But the truth is, if our work is to be faithful and if we are to follow what Jesus describes as the greatest commandment—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37)—our work will not be sustainable unless we commit to practices that replenish our energy, expand our intelligence (understanding), evoke our imagination, and deepen our love for one another. These practices might include forms of prayer, spiritual disciplines, communal discernment, storytelling, and leadership development.

In order to promote the practice of a more sustainable sense of vocation, let’s consider what we really mean when we say “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.”

[1] Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.1993 by HarperOne, 119.


We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement and expanding opportunities to fill our time. In a given year in the United States, 25 percent of Americans regularly volunteer their time, and 32 percent of these volunteer hours are contributed to religious organizations. This means those who have responded to God’s call to ordained leadership as deacons and ruling elders in our congregations are part of this 25 percent. Volunteers average about thirty hours per year.[1] According to these statistics, we can assume that those who have chosen to share their energy and human resources with the church contribute, on average, about 2.5 hours per month to these ministries.

There is an immense wage gap between those who have a great deal of resources and time to spend them and those who have very little and are scrambling with multiple jobs and responsibilities in order to make ends meet. It is likely that the leaders of our churches represent the full spectrum of this reality. Much of our leaders’ energy is consumed daily by their demanding work and/or home lives. Some of our leaders are caring for aging parents as well as growing children. Others are balancing physical and mental health issues with their commitments to caregiving for others and service in the church. And still others are in the midst of financial or relational crisis.

But what if the church was a place that did not acquiesce to our cultural norms of productivity and efficiency over wholeness and wellbeing? What if facilitating good leadership in our churches might become an opportunity to slow down, to teach and learn more sustainable practices? To relinquish the hold that capitalism and scarcity have on us?

In his book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann offers us the opportunity to reclaim sabbath as a faithful practice of work stoppage—unhooking ourselves from the relentless nature of busyness and productivity, rejecting the notion of scarcity, and embracing the reality of God’s abundance.[2] God’s gift of sabbath offers a model for more sustainable practices of ministry, inviting our leaders to not only pour themselves out in the service of our community but to be replenished as well. The question of serving with energy might mean that rather than imagining ourselves as being in competition with the other parts of our leaders’ lives we begin by sharing stories about our lives. We begin by creating a culture in which we tell the truth about how and where our energy is being poured out and where (or whether) that energy is being replenished. We might need to have honest conversations about where our capacities are and whether we have the energy to meet all the needs of our organization right now. We might need to name and remind our leaders that their worthiness is not determined by how much they give or how hard they work. Collectively, we might need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and one another.

When we invite our leaders to be self-reflective about their own relationship to time and energy as well as reflect on what the congregation as a whole truly has energy and passion for, then we can begin to faithfully discern what our priorities will be for this particular season of our congregational life.

For Reflection and Discussion:

What gives you energy? What depletes you? When you consider the ecosystem of your congregation, what requires the most energy? How might you replenish it? What might you need to let go of in order to be restored?

Tell a story about a time you experienced restoration. Where were you? Who were you with? What did you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or feel in this place?

Engage together in “A Sabbath as Resistance Meditation” (see Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources).

Additional Activity: Energy Inventory

Invite the leaders to make a list of all the areas in their lives in which they give energy. This might include jobs, family, hobbies, friendships, volunteer work, caregiving responsibilities, etc. Ask them to circle the things that require the most energy—which may be different from the things that take the most time. Encourage them to consider not only physical effort, but emotional, spiritual, and intellectual energy as well. For the visual thinkers in the group, invite them to make pie graphs to illustrate their lists. Invite them to reflect on what in their graphs surprises them or resonates with them.

Now invite them to do the same activity collectively, reflecting on the time and energy of the congregation. Take into account not only where the bulk of time and energy is spent but also the financial resources. Take time to reflect as a group on how the matrix of time, energy, and resources spent might match what Frederick Buechner describes as the intersection of the congregation’s deep gladness and the world’s hunger.

[1] Huffpost. January 31, 2017. Joseph, Marc, America Does Not Have Enough Volunteers.

[2] Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath as Resistance. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press; 2014.


Our commitment to intelligence, expanding understanding, and intellectual rigor, is imbedded in the life of Presbyterians. That said, we cannot tackle our commitment to serving with intelligence without naming the ways in which narrow definitions of intelligence have also been a source of exclusion and even oppression in our congregations and in the wider denomination. If we are to be faithful to the gospel and to the expansive theology of our polity, then we must examine what we mean when we declare a commitment to serve with intelligence. This commitment also requires us to be intentional in our nominating processes, considering the diversity of wisdom and intelligence present and able to serve in our congregations.

Chart of Gardner's Multiple IntelligencesJust as there are many styles of learning or leadership, there are also many ways in which intelligence manifests itself in our human experiences. Some of our leaders will demonstrate an academic intelligence, honed either by practice or profession, and they will bring gifts of intellect and historical and institutional knowledge to the work of leadership and governing. Others will demonstrate strategic and critical thinking intelligence that will provide our work with good questions and processes. Still others will demonstrate a creative or generative intelligence that will ground us with deep questions and engage us in outside-the-box problem solving. And still others will bring embodied intelligence, experience from the frontlines of service, activism, mission, and caregiving that will inform our work in real time and keep us honest as we attempt to meet the needs of our community. And, of course, many of our leaders will embody more than one of these along with wisdom and other intelligences.

How do we empower our leaders to bring their whole selves, including their wisdom and intelligence, to bear in their service to the church? How do we create spaces that become teaching and learning communities for our leaders so that they can not only grow but appreciate the intelligence and wisdom that their colleagues are bringing to the table as well?

The artist, Molly Costello, has created a beautiful and empowering image of this kind of intelligence in action. Four hands are reaching through a flower garden toward the center of the image, and stars seem to be pouring down from the heavens into the outstretched hands. These words appear on the hands: “We have been given all the tools.” When we empower our leaders to name and claim their gifts of intelligence and wisdom, we will discover that collectively, as the body of Christ, we have indeed been given all the tools we need.

For Reflection and Discussion:

In what ways have you deepened your understanding? What are you still learning? When you consider the ecosystem of your congregation, what information, learning, or training would enable you to deepen your understanding of the community you are called to serve, or expand your impact as followers of Jesus?

Tell a story about a time you experienced growth in your own understanding. Who was your teacher/mentor? How did this growth change or shape you? Is it connected to your call to service in the church?

Engage together in the “Head, Heart, Gut and Feet Prayer” (see Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources).

 Additional Activity

Use Luther Snow’s “Quick and Simple Asset Mapping Experience” from his book, The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2004).


The role of the imagination in the life of leadership, particularly in faith communities, is embodied most vividly in the biblical story in the life of the prophets. When the prophets speak and act, they draw on all the people’s senses, triggering their memories, awakening their hearts and minds, and inspiring them to turn and return to God again and again.

This role, the prophetic, vision-casting role, can be one of the most intimidating parts of a leaders’ work. Therefore, in many congregations, the role of prophetic word and vision-casting is left up to the pastor. As many in pastoral leadership have learned the hard way, however, casting, holding, and enacting such a vision alone is neither sustainable or faithful. We must commit to the work of sparking and stretching the imaginations of our people collectively if there’s any hope of our ministry taking root or making real impact.

Graphic of the words energy, intelligence, imagination, and loveImagination is essential to Christian leadership. Without imagination it is almost impossible to remember and return to the cosmic Creator, the living and breathing God of creation. Imagination is essential because the gospel offers an alternative narrative to the reality many in our congregations live every day. In the face of greed, the gospel calls us to generosity. In the face of our human penchant for violence, the gospel calls us to be peacemakers. In the face of the inequality and abuse of power rife in our systems, the gospel calls us to demand justice. In the face of environmental destruction, the gospel reminds us that we are co-creators with a loving God. In the face of death, the gospel promises new life and a new reality. This is the good news of Jesus Christ, and church officers must learn how to embrace and proclaim it alongside our pastoral leadership.

How can leaders embrace creativity and imagination as real tools for faithful leadership? How do we empower leaders to claim their role in sparking the imagination of the congregation?

In Genesis, God is an artist, singing creation into reality. God’s breath moves like a brushstroke across the deep and all the beauty and complexity of life emerges. Then God takes a deep breath and creates human beings in God’s own image. We are created in the image of a creative, sustaining, and imaginative God. And God has been inviting us into the work of co-creators ever since.

What would happen if, instead of asking ruling elders and deacons to fill predetermined roles, people were asked, “What shall we create together this year?” There are, of course, certain items of business, fiduciary responsibilities, and important and consistent tasks that need completed for our organizations to run responsibility. But all too often, in an effort to make them manageable, we reduce the work of leaders to tiny technical tasks that make it impossible to see how they are contributing to something transformational.

Take worship, for example. Many of our congregations have worship teams. How often do those meetings get consumed by the technical questions of how often and who will prepare communion? How many readers/liturgists need to be recruited for worship? Has anyone seen the Advent paraments? Worship committees, teams, or collaborators need to be invited into generative questions: “What is happening in our community and in the world?” “Do our people need to hear a word of comfort? Challenge? Hope?” “What do we want our folks to see, hear, feel, smell, and experience in worship this season?” “What can we create together to move, inspire, or stretch our congregation in worship?”

For Reflection and Discussion:

What sparks your imagination? Is it a good story? Vibrant words? Art? Music? When you consider the ecosystem of your congregation, is there a biblical story that stretches your imagination or that might inspire the work God is calling you to do together?

Tell a story about a time your own imagination was sparked. Did it help you take a leap of faith or make a decision about the future?

Engage as a group in “Weaving Our Communal Prayers Together” (see Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources).

Additional Activity

Invite leaders into a process of making something together. If you are a smaller group, invite a session member with a big kitchen to host a meeting and cook and eat together. This will be uncomfortable for some and a source of deep joy for others. Do it more than once! As we exercise our collaboration and creative muscles together, we will begin to see a deep cultural shift as our leaders begin to access their own imaginations.

Note: In some of our communities and cultures, it’s increasingly rare that we make things with our own hands. In other communities where we do continue to make things, this work is often tied to our employment, productivity, and self-worth. These prayers and activities are not about perfection or production, they are intended to engage a process that will unlock our creativity and joy.


“Love one another.” This is our mandate from Jesus, drawn from the laws of Moses and passed down generation to generation. While this seems simple enough, why do our relationships in the church often get so messy, complicated, even harmful? How do we instill a culture of loving well in communities made up of diverse, complex, and hurting people?

Sometimes I reflect on the messy struggle that it is to love one another in the church and I think to myself, “Wow … the church is so beautiful, we have such expansive aspirational theology in our polity, we are rife with gorgeous imagery and complex stories that are imprinted on our hearts through our hymnody, liturgy, and confessions. We make bold claims about working for humility, justice, and peace. There is so much potential for goodness in the life of a local church. Why do all these broken and messy humans have to show up and ruin everything?”

The truth is loving relationship take time, practice, and intention. As most of us know from our personal lives and relationship, the ones that thrive are the ones in which we can be ourselves and tell the truth, and where we can both give and receive care and compassion. Loving relationship are equal parts tender and honest. They are grounded in the desire to give as well as receive and often times they grow steadily over time.

Church life exists at a strange intersection. The church is a community, but it’s also an organization. The church is relational, but it’s also institutional. Some of our churches reflect a familial structure, either due to size or to the longevity of the membership. Others are structured more programmatically; they might be bigger, or they are designed around the activities and mission life of the congregation. Some of our churches have a corporate vibe. This is often due to size and the need for efficiency, but it is also a reflection of the values and expertise found in our communities.

Our approach to laying the groundwork of loving relationships will vary depending on our context and the culture of our congregation, but the first step is identifying love as a desired outcome. It seems silly, but in the midst of keeping our congregations alive we can become so consumed with maintenance of the system that we forget the “why” of what we’re doing.

Regardless of the congregation’s design or structure, is love at the heart of the church’s identity?

The first step in developing loving relationships is the good and scary work of becoming known. As members are brought into leadership positions, the pressure is to plug them in and get things rolling. We might take time to orient folks to the official roles and responsibilities of their leadership positions, we might even explain a bit about how our polity works and teach them about Robert’s Rules so our meeting can run decently and in order. But do we take time to know one another?

Authentic and loving relationships will only emerge if we are as intentional about forming them as we are in setting the business agenda or crafting the budget. This could be as simple as beginning meetings with opportunity for life updates and check ins. These communal conversations can be facilitated by story prompts or prayer requests. If it’s a brand-new concept, start small, invite folks to share about their week with a neighbor: one highlight, one low point, and then pray for each other. If you’re leadership has already established such practices, go deeper—invite conversations around topics such as seasons of change, fears and anxiety, work/life balance, and stories of hunger and joy.

The path to loving relationships in congregational life often begins with identifying what we need. This is hard and vulnerable work. Unfortunately, some of us, and some of our leaders, grew up in churches and families where we were never asked what we needed. We grew up in places where imperfections, weaknesses, mental health issues, addiction issues, family conflict, and trauma were often kept secret rather than shared. It takes time to create a culture in our communities where it’s safe and healthy to share our whole selves. It takes time to create systems of care and support where hard issues can be met with non-judgment, compassion, and resources. But we can begin by asking the question: What do you need?

For Reflection and Discussion:

What are the marks of your most loving relationships? What is the greatest challenge you encounter as you work to deepen your relationships? When you consider the ecosystem of your congregation, what are the marks of how you relate to one another? In what ways do you care for one another? Are there barriers that keep you from asking for what you need or sharing your whole selves?

Tell a story about a time you gave or received love in community. Where were you? How did you open yourself up to receiving love and care? Was it easy or difficult?

Engage together in “Remembering Our Baptism” (see Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources).

Additional Activity: One-on-One Gatherings

If leaders have committed to a three-year term, invite them to plan to meet with at least four other leaders each of those three years. It could be a coffee, a meal, or even a walk. Invite them to start with folks they know the least before setting time with folks they know the best. As for structure, if it is needed, give three guiding questions:

What brings you joy?

Why do you love about our church?

What keeps you up at night?

Open and close with prayer.

Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources

1.     Letting Go of The Week: A Sabbath as Resistance Meditation (to be used at the beginning of worship, a gathering, or meeting)


We pause for a few moments …

To let go of the week that has passed …

Breathing in … Breathing out … (repeat)

Like every other week, it has been a week of doing …

We each had a to-do list of what we wanted to do …

We each had great hopes for the week …

We gave care to one another, we answered to others, we hoped it was enough …

Although much remains undone, for this Sabbath moment we resist

Breathing in … Breathing out … (repeat)

Like every other week, it’s been a week of struggle …

At times it felt as if things were falling apart …

At times it seemed we went from one thing to the next without pause or rest.

Although much is still unsettled—broken even, for this Sabbath moment we resist …

Breathing in… Breathing out … (repeat)

For this sabbath moment feel your frustration, your worry, your anxiety drift to the back of your mind …

Let your struggles float away for a moment …

Breathing in … take in the fresh air of Sabbath …

Breathing out … let go of your need to fix it …

Breathing in … take in the fresh air of Sabbath …

Breathing out … let go of your worry and fear …

Breathing in … take in the fresh air of Sabbath …

Breathing out … let go of the voices that hold you back …

Breathing in … Breathing out … resist (repeat)

We let go of the week and we welcome this Sabbath time of resistance …

Let yourself rest and breathe for just a few moments and consider how this is a form of resistance.


2.     Head, Heart, Gut, Feet Prayers 

Create and distribute 8.5”x11” pages with an outline of a body, (or outlines of a variety of body shapes). Take twenty minutes for this guided reflection:

  • Breathe in, Breathe out. Consider all the swirling thoughts in your head. What is swirling, what is floating to the top, what is distracting you or making you curious in this moment. In and around the head of the body outline on the paper, write down anything and everything taking up space in your brain. (5 mins)
  • Breathe in, Breathe out. Consider your heart. Draw a heart in the chest of the body and consider, what are you holding in your heart? Who or what do you have feeling of tenderness, compassion, love, worry, or other feelings about right now, in this moment? Fill the area inside and around the chest of the body outline with names, places, or other things you’re holding close to your heart. (5 mins)
  • Breathe in, Breathe out. Consider your gut. This is the place where things hit us first. Worries, anxieties, compassion, knowledge of our own shortcomings, failures, and hard honest truths. Fill in the area in and around the middle of the body outline with words, stories, or images of things that you intuitively know to be true in your gut. (5 mins)
  • Breathe in, Breathe out. Consider your feet. This is where you take action. Where are your feet itching to go? Are you eager to run towards something or someone? Are you ready to run away from something? Consider the thoughts, feelings, and intuitions that you’ve already identified. Where might your feet take you as a result?

Closing Prayer: Breathe in, Breathe out. To close, take a look at the whole body. We often focus our attention to one area of our being. Was there one area that was easier to name than the others. Was there one that was harder? Remember, God doesn’t just call a part of us. God calls all of us. And God doesn’t only love one part of us. God loves all of us. Amen.


3.     Weaving Together Our Communal Prayers

Provide each person with as many slips of 1” x 8.5” paper as there are leaders (including yourself).

Each person writes their own name on all their slips.

Redistribute each slip so each leader has a slip with each person’s name.

After a time of sharing celebrations and heartbreak, invite your leaders reflect and to write prayers for each person in the room.

When ready, invite leaders to weave their slips together on a simple frame (old picture frames can be used with a warp made by stapling a ribbon or string one way across to begin the weaving).

Close with prayer.


4.     Remembering Our Baptism: Will you ______________________________________?

Fill a bowl of water or the font, if it’s available, and place it on the center of the gathering table. Read Acts 2: 37–47.

Discussion & Questions for the Leaders:

When we celebrate baptism, part of the presentation for baptism includes questions for the community, oftentimes we ask the community to commit to caring for and fostering the spiritual lives of those being baptized. Today consider how you are best cared for in community, and how we, as leaders, can best care for one another.

What do we do to foster care and compassion in our community? What do we need to work on?

What do I need in a community? And how do I know what others need?

Individual Reflection: What do I need to ask for from this particular community in order to be seen, heard, included, and engaged? Choose one thing and fill the blank line in the question below.


Finish this question to the community:

Will you            ______________________?


Each person is invited to come to the font (bowl of water) and ask their question, those gathered are invited to respond.


One: Will you   ______________________?

All: We will, with God’s help!


Close with excerpts from A Brief Statement of Faith:

In life and in death we belong to God.

Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God,

and the communion of the Holy Spirit,

we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,

whom alone we worship and serve. (BOC, 11.1, Lines 1–6)

About the writer

The Reverend Shawna Bowman is an artist and pastor doing ministry with the creative and justice-seeking folks at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago and co-founder of Creation Lab, an art collective and working studio space at the intersection of creativity, spirituality, and prophetic imagination. Shawna is also an affiliate faculty member at McCormick Theological Seminary and National Organizer for Crossroads Antiracism Training and Organizing. You can find Shawna and Creation Lab on IG, Twitter, and Facebook.

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